Sanders fights for another rust belt upset to regain momentum against Biden

Sanders fights for another rust belt upset to regain momentum against Biden

Underscoring what’s at stake for his White House bid when Michigan and five other states hold Democratic presidential nomination contests on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders emphasizes that “this is a very, very important day in Michigan.”

Speaking in front of more than 10,000 people at a rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the populist senator from Vermont on Sunday spotlighted that Michigan’s “the most important state” to hold a contest on March 10, which is being dubbed ‘mini Super Tuesday’ or ‘Super Tuesday 2.0.’

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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With 125 pledged delegates at stake, Michigan is the biggest prize among the six states holding contests on Tuesday. The others are Missouri, Mississippi, Washington state, Idaho and North Dakota.

Sanders, a populist senator who’s making his second-straight presidential run, defeated eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016’s primary in Michigan, in what was considered a major upset victory. That foreshadowed Clinton’s narrow loss to Donald Trump in the November 2016 general election in Michigan. Trump’s victory with working-class white voters in the state, as well as similar narrow wins in two other crucial Rust Belt states – Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – propelled him to the White House.

The pre-Michigan primary polls in 2016 got it all wrong – as they indicated Clinton with a double-digit lead over Sanders.

“The 2016 Michigan Democratic primary is considered to be the biggest polling miss of that cycle. Polls released in the week before the state primary showed Hillary Clinton with anywhere from a 10 to 27 point lead,” noted Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.

Fast forward four years and former Vice President Joe Biden’s now the clear front-runner in Michigan with the final polls released on primary eve indicating the former vice president with a double-digit lead over Sanders.

But Sanders is holding out hope for a repeat performance that would stave off elimination and instead boost the senator back into a massive battle with Biden for the nomination.

An optimistic Sanders predicted on Fox News Sunday “I think we’re gonna do well on Tuesday, and we’re gonna beat Biden.”

While a loss would be considered a setback, Sanders doesn’t see such a prospect as fatal.

“I certainly would not consider dropping out,” he stressed.

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Sanders was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination after winning the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary and then shellacking the field a week and a half later at the Nevada caucuses. But thanks to his landslide victory in South Carolina a week and a half ago – and a strong performance during last week’s Super Tuesday when he swept 10 of the 14 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday and took the lead over Sanders in the all-important race for Democratic nomination convention delegates – Biden’s moved closer to locking up the nomination.

Because of its general election political symbolism and the large delegate cache, Michigan’s capturing the lion’s share of media attention among this week’s round of contests.

Biden – very cognizant of the polling debacle in 2016 – stressed on Monday that “I’m kind of superstitious, I see all these polls…I remember Hillary was up by 23 points…I don’t take anything for granted.”

Biden, with an eye on November’s general election, emphasized during a rally Monday in Flint that “Michigan is an important contest not just for the Democratic primary, because the outcome of Michigan in November may determine who the next person United States is going to be.”

The former vice president’s enjoyed a tidal wave of endorsements from current and former members of Congress and governors the past 10 days – as the party establishment and other moderates all coalesced around Biden to prevent Sanders – a self-described democratic socialist – from becoming the party’s standard-bearer in November’s general election.

And many of his former rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have endorsed his White House bid. Two of those one-time rivals – Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California – joined Biden on the campaign trail in Michigan on Monday after backing him just in the past 24 hours.

Sanders, fighting for survival, has increased his jabs at Biden in the wake of Super Tuesday.

At a Fox News town hall on primary eve in Detroit, Sanders charged that Biden had “bailed out the crooks on Wall Street who nearly destroyed our economy 12 years ago.”

But he failed to mention that $700 billion rescue plan also had the support of then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

A day earlier in Ann Arbor, Sanders slammed the former vice president  – saying “here we are a few days before a major primary here in Michigan. And we are taking on, in this campaign, not just Joe Biden….We’re taking on the 60 billionaires who are funding his campaign.

Biden, in a much more comfortable position, has refrained from blasting Sanders. Instead, on Monday he gently jabbed his rival, saying “we’re not looking for a revolution.” The push for a political revolution has long been a staple of Sanders stump speech.

But the former vice president’s aiming for what he hopes will a be a near knockout punch to Sanders.

Democratic strategist Michael Ceraso – a veteran of the 2016 Sanders campaign and the 2020 White House bid by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg – stressed that a Biden victory in Michigan coupled with likely wins in Missouri and Mississippi will “put a huge hurdle in front of Sanders to get the delegates he needs to win.”

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